Monday, July 31, 2006

The Daoist answer to workplace stress

This article is a revised version of the original published in my "Tao Qi" newsletter of September, 2004. Just click on the heading or follow the link in the sidebar to subscribe.

A couple of weeks ago my friend Diana and I were discussing the topic of stress in the workplace. We came to the conclusion that it is not the workload that has people so stressed-out, it’s the ambivalence that most people feel toward their jobs.

Either you like the pay but hate the work, or you know you don’t really want to stay in your current job but don’t know what else to do and so you do nothing while becoming more and more frustrated and discouraged. Both these scenarios are at the root of a great deal of stress in the workplace.

The truth is that you can have the biggest, heaviest, meanest, dirtiest workload known to man but if you love what you’re doing, you’ll dance through your day and never miss a beat.

If you hate what you’re doing….well….I think you already know the answer to that one. Read on….


"Work" from p. 110 of Everyday Tao by Deng Ming-Dao, Harper San Francisco, NY, 1996, ISBN 0-06-251395-8.

"To live is to work.

"It is important to do the type of work that leads not simply to production, but to skill. In other words, the most important type of work is the kind that results from one's life, not from societal or economic pressures. When we work as part of life it leaves a profound residue in our personality. It produces an attitude of accomplishment, and accumulation of working wisdom impossible to obtain any other way.

"The ancients recognized this phenomenon so clearly that work came to signify skill. The kind of work one does - farm work, art work, spiritual work, or any other work - is not so important. What is important is that one performs one's work at its most profound level. In olden times, people would say that a craftsperson who had achieved great skill had realized the Tao of that art form.

"And once one has realized Tao in part, the whole is not far away."


What kind of work do you do when you go to work?
What kind of work do you do when you aren't working?

If you have two different answers to those two questions, you are probably not performing your work, your job, at its most profound level. You go to work because it's a job and it pays the bills, and hanging on to a job that pays the bills, especially these days, seems like a prudent thing to do. And it is prudent, but.....are you often bored, annoyed, or frustrated at work? Do you wish you were somewhere else doing something else…almost anything else but what you are doing? Do you keep glancing at the clock, coasting along until it’s time to go home? If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, it’s time for you to seek a new direction toward that profound level.

Just what does it mean to perform your work at its most profound level? There are several parts to that, I think.

One part is that you "do without doing" which means working effortlessly. Learning the job or the skills necessary to do the work was easy for you, enjoyable even, and you don't understand how other people could ever struggle with it. The work itself is so natural to you that it takes hardly any effort at all.

A second part is that it doesn't seem like work. The comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell called this “finding your bliss.” You can honestly say you have found your purpose in life if you work for what seems like thirty minutes only to discover that several hours have gone by; you perform the task wondering how other people can feel indifferent to it or find it boring because it absolutely energizes and motivates you. In fact, it’s not really work, it’s fun, and you can’t wait to go to work in the morning, and you can’t believe someone is paying you to enjoy yourself so much.

A third part, which incorporates the other two, is the Tao of the work. Here is a great story to illustrate what is meant by that:

Carving Up An Ox

A cook was butchering an ox for Duke Wen Hui.
The places his hand touched,
His shoulder leaned against,
His foot stepped on,
His knee pressed upon,
Came apart with a sound.

He moved the blade, making a noise
That never fell out of rhythm.
It harmonized with the Mulberry Woods Dance,
Like music from ancient times.

Duke Wen Hui exclaimed: "Ah! Excellent!
Your skill has advanced to this level?"

The cook puts down the knife and answered:
"What I follow is Tao,
Which is beyond all skills.
When I started butchering,
What I saw was nothing but the whole ox.
After three years,
I no longer saw the whole ox.

"Nowadays, I meet it with my mind
Rather than see it with my eyes.
My sensory organs are inactive
While I direct the mind's movement.

"It goes according to natural laws,
Striking apart large gaps,
Moving toward large openings,
Following its natural structure.

"Even places where tendons attach to bones
Give no resistance,
Never mind the larger bones!

"An average cook goes through a knife in a month,
Because he hacks.
A good cook goes through a knife in a year,
Because he cuts.

"I have used this knife for nineteen years.
It has butchered thousands of oxen,
But the blade is still like it's newly sharpened.

"The joints have openings,
And the knife's blade has no thickness.
Apply this lack of thickness into the openings,
And the moving blade swishes through,
With room to spare!

"That's why after nineteen years,
The blade is still like it's newly sharpened.

"Nevertheless, every time I come across joints,
I see its tricky parts,
I pay attention and use caution,
My vision concentrates,
My movement slows down.

"I move the knife very slightly,
Whump! It has already separated.
The ox doesn't even know it's dead,
and falls to the ground like mud.

"I stand holding the knife,
And look all around it.
The work gives me much satisfaction.
I clean the knife and put it away."

Duke Wen Hui said: "Excellent!
I listen to your words,
And learn a principle of life."

- Zhuang Zi (Chuang Tzu), Chap. 3, translated by I-kuan Tao

When you discover what is in your nature and what is natural for you to do, you don’t merely perform the work, you are the work, the harmony and the rhythm. When you have found that, you have found your bliss, and workplace stress will be a distant memory….if you even think of it at all….which I doubt you will.

Progressive Relaxation Technique

Originally published in my "Natural Stress-Free Living" newsletter of July 16, 2006. Just click on the heading or follow the link in the sidebar to subscribe.

Progressive Relaxation Technique

What it is:

Progressive relaxation is an excellent, natural practice that gives you the control to relax all your tense muscles, and practice deep breathing at the same time.

If you find yourself becoming tense and uncomfortable at home or work during the day, either mentally, emotionally, or physically, you can do the steps of the technique that address the area of your tension without performing the entire routine. For example, if mental tension has caused a headache, you would want to concentrate on relaxing the areas of the shoulders, neck, and head. Emotional tension such as anger or frustration is often centered in the hands, arms, and torso; abdominal, chest, and hand/arm exercises would be appropriate. Physical discomfort caused by sitting or standing in a fixed position for long periods of time may be reduced or eliminated by performing muscular tensing and relaxing on the affected leg and back areas.

If you suffer from insomnia, regularly doing this technique in bed before going to sleep will help you to get to sleep quicker, and stay asleep throughout the night. It may take a few weeks for this technique to become a fully effective sleep aid, but each time you do it, it will bring you closer and closer to a natural good night’s sleep. The progressive relaxation technique has proven over time to be a very effective sleep aid without the risk of side effects or dependency you have on medications. In fact, safety questions have arisen concerning some sleep-inducing drugs since people have exhibited short-term memory loss while taking the drugs, rare but bizarre side effects like binge eating, and severe withdrawal symptoms, even seizures, if the drug use is abruptly halted.1 Nature is safer!

For many years, I have used this exact progressive relaxation technique at the beginning of my meditation sessions. It is very safe and effective!

Where to start:

You may be seated or lying for this exercise.

If you are seated in a chair, place both your feet flat on the floor, and let your arms rest by your sides. Your hands may rest at your sides or in your lap. If you are in an armchair, do not rest your arms or elbows on the chair arms. Doing so will push your shoulders upward and tense the muscles in your arms, shoulders and neck.

If you are lying, be comfortable. You may want a pillow beneath your head and another under your knees if you like. If you are using this exercise as a sleep aid, you will want to be in bed and ready for sleep.

While performing this technique, it also is beneficial to visualize your muscular tension flow out of your body or sink into the ground as you relax each muscle group. Your physical body responds to the thoughts provided through your visual imagery or visualization, and you will be further relaxed by thinking thoughts of warmth and relaxation. (Note: don’t ever visualize or think of stimulating activity while trying to relax! You will be working against yourself.)

Pay attention to how you feel while relaxing, and use the memory of feeling warm, comfortable, and relaxed as part of your visualization for your next relaxation session. Each time you do this, the memory becomes stronger and more influential in aiding you in your comfort and wellness.

As always, if you have any medical condition, consult your doctor before performing this technique. If you experience discomfort or pain while performing the technique, Stop Immediately! People who are prone to foot or leg cramps may want to either skip the foot and leg sections of the technique, or only slightly tense the foot and leg muscles.

How to do it:

To begin, take between five and ten cleansing breaths; inhale deeply and slowly through the nose while counting three seconds (never inhale through the mouth). Exhale fully while counting three seconds, and imagine your tension leaving your body. You may exhale through the nose or the mouth. While taking your cleansing breaths, tell yourself how great and relaxed you are going to feel when you have finished Progressive Relaxation. If practicing before sleep, tell yourself how well you are going to sleep and how rested and wonderful you are going to feel in the morning.

1. Foot and ankle. Inhale to the count of five while pointing your toes down and away from you. Exhale to the count of five while relaxing your foot. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

2. Feet and calves. Inhale to the count of five while pointing your toes up and your heel away from you to flex feet and calves. Exhale to the count of five while relaxing your feet and calves. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

3. Thighs. Inhale to the count of five while tensing the muscles in your thighs. It may help to raise your leg an inch or so to tense the thigh muscles; raise the leg just enough to engage the thigh muscles, don’t do leg lifts. Exhale to the count of five while relaxing your thighs; lower your legs if you raised them. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

4. Derriere. Inhale to the count of five while constricting the muscles in your buttocks. Exhale to the count of five while relaxing your buttocks. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

5. Abdomen. Inhale to the count of five while expanding or pushing out the muscles in your abdomen. Exhale to the count of five while contracting or pulling in your abdominal muscles. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

6. Back. Inhale to the count of five while tensing your back muscles. You may need to arch your back slightly to do this. Exhale to the count of five while relaxing your back muscles. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

7. Chest. Inhale to the count of five while tensing your chest muscles. You may need to cross your arms in front of you to do this. Exhale to the count of five while relaxing your chest muscles. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

8. Hands. Inhale to the count of five while clenching your fingers into fists and bending the wrist inward. Exhale to the count of five while stretching out and relaxing your fingers, and bending your wrist outward. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

9. Arms. Inhale to the count of five while bending your arms at the elbows and clenching the upper and lower arm muscles. Exhale to the count of five while stretching out your arms. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

10. Shoulders. Inhale to the count of five while tensing your shoulder muscles. You may want to hunch your shoulders to tense the muscles. Exhale to the count of five while relaxing your shoulders. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

11. Neck. Inhale to the count of five while tensing your neck muscles. To deliberately tense the neck muscles, you may want to pull your head down as if you were a turtle pulling its head into its shell, or slowly and gently tilt your head from side to side or front to back. Exhale to the count of five while relaxing your neck. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

12. Face. Inhale to the count of five while tensing your facial muscles by exaggerating the movements you might make if you bit into something very sour…lips pursed, eyes closed tightly, nose wrinkled up. Exhale to the count of five while relaxing your facial muscles. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

“Bizarre events linked to sleeping pills in US” Reuters news article, March 15, 2006

Sunday, July 30, 2006


I’m going to start off with something that is fundamental to reducing stress, and promoting relaxation and well-being: Breathing. We all do it, but do you realize how vitally important it is to do it properly and cleanly? Read on…..

The two easiest and most immediate things you can do to relieve stress in your life is to breathe properly and to make sure you are doing everything you can to promote good circulation. The health and wellness of every cell in your body depends upon the oxygen carried through the blood stream. Improper breathing or being sedentary for long periods of time denies your body its oxygen requirement, and you set yourself up for a stress reaction. When your circulation suffers, you cannot properly expel the carbon dioxide and other toxins from your system, either. This also creates feelings of stress and un-wellness.

Mild stress reactions to improper breathing can bring an overall feeling of lethargy. Stronger physical symptoms may range from headaches to tingling (“pins and needles”) or cramps in feet and toes. These two reactions are often most pronounced when you have sat leaning over a desk for an extended period of time.

When you sit leaning forward, you are compressing your chest area, including your heart! This position can limit your heart’s ability to pump blood efficiently, and can diminish your capacity to circulate oxygen. Sitting forward also encourages shallow breathing. The average adult uses only ten percent of his or her lung capacity as it is; you can’t afford to decrease your intake of oxygen. Furthermore, slouching forces stressful tension into your shoulders and the back of your neck, compressing the veins and capillaries, and restricting the flow of blood to your head and your brain. This not only causes headaches, but adversely impacts your ability to concentrate and retain information.

Your heart is a hard-working organ, but it can’t push blood all the way to the tip of your toes by itself. Your muscle tone helps to move the oxygenated blood through your body to your extremities. Sitting still for long periods of time causes your muscles themselves to suffer from lack of oxygen; they begin to contract, making you feel stiff or sore all over. Poor muscle tone contributes to poor circulation, and that contributes even more to muscular stress and discomfort. Feet and toes get cranky when they do not receive the oxygen they need, and they send the very direct message through the “pins and needles” or cramps you feel: “Get up and get moving!” For every hour you sit, you should make five minutes for movement.

The mechanics of proper breathing is only one side of this issue. The other side is, of course, what you breathe.

Whether you spend your time in a home or an office, indoor air is full of things that are downright bad for you: formaldehyde from cupboards and other plywood products; fire retardants and other chemicals in carpets, upholstery, and draperies; glue and finishing products from furniture; residue from cleaning products.

Opening the window to let in fresh, outdoor air may not be much better, and may even be worse if you are exposing yourself to vehicle exhaust fumes or landscaping chemicals like fertilizers and pesticides.

The only way to get clean air without going out into the forest is to make it. Very simply, buy an air cleaner. It will be the best investment you ever made toward your good health and wellness.

Small air cleaners are available that will easily fit on the corner of your desk or table, and larger cleaners that will filter the air in an entire room. If you purchase an air cleaner that requires filters, do remember to change the filter frequently or you will be breathing in the higher density of toxins collected in the filter.

Not as effective but esthetically more pleasing perhaps is to place plants or a small, potted tree in your work place or home. Plants absorb carbon dioxide and return fresh oxygen. A flowering plant brings the added advantage of nicely scented flowers that encourage deep breathing as you try to capture their perfume. It’s a fact that the color green promotes relaxation and well-being.

Burning a candle will help clean the air, also, but please burn only natural beeswax candles. The scented paraffin candles look and smell nice, but they are manufactured from petroleum by-products and only add to indoor pollution according to The American Lung Association. While burning, a natural beeswax candle will produce negative ions which help clear the air of pollen, smoke, dust and dust mites, and bad odors. They burn slower and last longer, too. (Never leave a burning candle unattended.)

Whatever method you choose, it is certainly in your best interest to provide yourself with the healthiest, cleanest air you can.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Welcome to Be Well With Michelle

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Stressed out to the max?
When your life is filled with demands even Superman or Wonder Woman would be hard-pressed to meet and you suffer under pressure-cooker pressures and high-tech high anxiety, the costs of stress to your health are enormous – anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and heart disease to name only a few.
Emotionally, you're angry, frustrated, depressed, and for sure none of these things are good for you or your relationships!
And then there is the additional stress and anxiety, and in some cases chronic disease, that come as the result of the pharmaceutical side-effects of the drugs you're prescribed for anxiety, high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, etc.
Stress hurts your wallet, too! If you’re lucky enough to have health insurance, the companies are looking for ways to deny your claim, or your benefits are being capped due to the high cost of health care. The price of your co-pay for doctor visits and prescription medications is rising at a phenomenal rate.
Leave the rat race to the rats!
You didn’t choose a stressed-out life, but it is thrust upon millions of people these days. You're smart and want to reduce your stress using holistic relaxation techniques but don’t have the time to research or experiment with the great variety of them to find the one that is perfect for you.
I want to help you get out of the maze and help you find the perfect, holistic stress-reducing techniques you need to live a healthy, balanced, and more relaxed lifestyle. You will feel better, sleep better, reduce your blood pressure, reduce or eliminate headaches and migraines, and back, neck, and shoulder pain.
I can help you reverse months or even years of accumulated stress symptoms in four weeks; maybe even eliminate your need for visits to the doctor’s office and for prescription drugs that often aggravate your problems or create new ones as very undesirable side effects pop up.
As an educator formerly working with Special Education and Emotionally Challenged students in both public and therapeutic schools, my assessment, curriculum development, and teaching skills come together to create the very best stress-reducing plan for you, one tailored to your needs, and one you will enjoy doing. We both know that if you don’t enjoy it, you won’t do it. I work closely with you to design your action plan with stress-eliminating and relaxation techniques you are sure to enjoy.
Exit Maze here - - - >
Your hour-long Initial Assessment is free and may be done in person or over the phone or internet. I help you identify and track both the obvious and the hidden sources of stress in your life.
If you choose to exit the maze and leave the rats behind, I will create and guide you through a plan that includes the relaxation techniques that you will most enjoy, and that work for you in your lifestyle, schedule, and environment. We will meet one hour each week for four weeks, and meetings may be in person, over the phone or the internet. You receive all this for about the cost of one month of just one prescription medication: only $199.00
Follow through and follow up are essential to success, and I will schedule with you to do just that! Along with your personal plan, you will receive my ongoing support because I love to help people Be Well ~ Naturally!
Be Free At Last!

Start with an email to today to schedule your Initial Assessment.